|Liebreich: Planes, Trains and Automobiles – the Electric Remake|
But, but, hydrogen!
At this point, I am sure any die-hard fans of hydrogen must be practically jumping out of their chairs. Because, yes, if you are talking about hybrid aviation options, hydrogen is one of the potential fuels that you could use. And, yes, you could use a fuel cell to convert it to electricity to replenish the on-board battery, though a turbine could work perfectly well too. While I continue to be scathing about the benefits of hydrogen for short-distance transport – anything under, say, 250 miles, whether by road, rail or air – longer-distances are where hydrogen might have a chance (as might biofuels).
Long-distance rail travel is another sector balanced between the benefits of electrification and hydrogen. With electrification of railway tracks costing as much as $2.5 million per mile, connecting up long-distance routes becomes prohibitively expensive. Hydrogen offers a potential way of reducing CO2 emissions and air pollution. In November 2017, Alstom signed a deal with the transport authority of Lower Saxony for 14 iLint hydrogen fuel cell trains, along with 30 years of maintenance and fuel, and the first train was certified for passenger use by the German Federal Railway Authority this summer.
However, hydrogen is not the only option (leaving aside the fact that if the hydrogen is generated from methane you might as well run the train on compressed natural gas, or CNG, as is occasionally done in India). Another way to eliminate emissions without electrifying the whole track would be for the train to carry a battery and recharge periodically en route, as proposed by Bombardier, U.K.-based start-up Vivarail and others. This might well end up cheaper and simpler than the hydrogen option, particularly for short and middle-distance routes.
For long-distance trucking, the electric rapid-charge concept is facing real competition from hydrogen. Feisty start-up Nikola is promoting a 1,000-mile hydrogen truck, for which it has 800 pre-orders from Anheuser-Busch. Call me skeptical until they have proven they can build vehicles, but most major truck manufacturers are also developing hydrogen concept trucks.